The real story behind Old Changi Hospital

11 09 2017

The real story behind Old Changi Hospital, isn’t about what the place seems to have got an unfortunate reputation more recently for.  The former hospital, which has its roots in the RAF Hospital set up after the war in 1947, is a place that many who were warded or who worked there remember with fondness.

The hospital, with a reputation of being one of the best military medical facilities in the Far East, is also well remembered for the wonderful views its wards provided of the sea and that it was felt aided in rest and recovery.

Members of the public got to learn about the background to the hospital and how some of the basis for the more recently circulated myths are quite clearly false during a visit to the site as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property Visits organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority. More on the visit and the series can also be found at the links below.

More on the visit:

More on Old Changi Hospital / Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:

Also of interest:

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Registration for Old Changi Hospital Visit (2nd Run)

26 08 2017

Update
26 August 2017 1.15 pm

Registration for the 2nd run of the event has been closed as of 1312 hours, 26 August 2017. All slots have been taken up.

Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to Old Admiralty House being scheduled for 16 September 2017 at 9 am to 11 am (rescheduled due to Presidential election on 23 September). More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


Due to popular demand, a second run of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets visit to Old Changi Hospital will be held on 9 September 2017.

Registration is closed as all slots have been taken up. An email will be sent to registered participants with admin instructions a week prior to the visit.





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets: Visit to Old Changi Hospital

25 08 2017

Update
26 August 2017 8.20 am

A 2nd tour has been added at 1pm on 9 September 2017.

Details on registration will be posted at 1 pm today.


Update
25 August 2017 9.07 am

Registration for the event has been closed as of 0835 hours, 25 August 2017. All slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series, which will be to Old Admiralty House being scheduled for 16 September 2017 at 9 am to 11 am (rescheduled due to Presidential election on 23 September). More details will be out two weeks before the visit.


The fourth in the series of State Property visits that is being supported by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) will present participants with a rare opportunity to visit the former Changi Hospital.

For this visit, participants will have to be 18 years old and above.

Registration is closed as all slots have been taken up. An email will be sent to registered participants with admin instructions a week prior to the visit.


Old Changi Hospital

The hospital traces its origins to the Royal Air Force(RAF) Hospital Changi. That was set up in 1947 to serve the then newly established RAF Station, Singapore’s third. The hospital operated out of two Barrack Hill buildings, one of which was actually designated for use as a medical centre in the context of the military camps of today. The buildings were built as part of the Changi garrison’s 1930s vintage Kitchener Barracks, which housed the Royal Engineers. Separated by a flight of 91 steps, it took quite an effort to move from one wing to the other.

Despite its less than ideal layout, the hospital gained a reputation of being one of the best medical facilities in the Far East. It was well liked by those who were warded there with its proximity to the sea. The hospital also played an important role during the Korean War. A ward was set up for use as a stopover for the “Flying Ambulance” service the RAF mounted. The service allowed wounded UN Command troops to be repatriated to their home countries via Singapore and London.

The hospital was also an important maternity hospital that served families with all arms of the military (not just the RAF) who were stationed in Singapore and counted more than 1000 new arrivals during its time as the RAF Hospital. An expansion exercise in 1962 gave the hospital a third block.

RAF Hospital Changi became the ANZUK Military Hospital following the 1971 pullout of British forces, then the UK Military Hospital, the SAF Hospital, and finally Changi Hospital. It closed in 1997 and the buildings have been left empty since. I will be sharing more on the hospital, its buildings and the history of the Changi garrison during the visit.






Tanah Merah, 1965

22 05 2017

Old photographs, of much cherished places that are no longer with us in Singapore, are a godsend. They help me to hold on to my sanity in a country that due to the relentless pace of change, feels much less like home with each passing day.

A set of such photos arrived in my inbox over the weekend. Taken in 1965 and sent by Ian Brooks, the photos are first in colour that I have come across of the Tanah Merah Besar area of my early childhood. The photos are especially precious for two reasons. One, the show a house perched on a set of cliffs (yes, cliffs!) and two, they also show one of many machine-gun pillbox that were then a fairly common sight.

The area in which these were taken – where the seaward end of Tanah Merah Besar Road turned northeast or left into Nicoll Drive and right or southwest to Wing Loong Road – was a gateway into a most magical of places, the Tanah Merah of my early childhood. That Tanah Merah was one of seaside kampungs, coconut groves, beach-side villas – one of which belonged to Singapore’s first Chief Minister, David Marshall – and holiday bungalows (see also: Once Tanah Merah and also Mata Ikan) and one that provided me with some of the most memorable moments of my early childhood.

Sadly, nothing is left of it except for a Tanah Merah Besar Road that now ends at a fence (belonging to Changi Airport’s western perimeter), and the memories of a world that if not for the photographs that still exist, would surely fade away.





Ancient music in Jackie Chan’s ancient houses

20 10 2016

A most delightful gift to Singapore made by Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan is the set of four structures that now grace the campus of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) at Somapah. Dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, the structures were originally from Zhejiang province in China. A chance to have a look at them came with a Nanyin performance by the Siong Leng Musical Association held in the structures that I was invited to recently.

Ancient music in ancient structures. A performance by the Siong Leng Musical Association held in a main hall that was part of a house from Zhejiang.

Ancient music in ancient structures. A performance by the Siong Leng Musical Association held in a main hall that was part of a house from Zhejiang.

Part of a collection of ten ancient structures purchased by martial arts star with the intention that they be dismantled and re-erected as a home for his parents, the structures were put in storage for much longer than was intended. Little was documented on the assembly of the structures, which proved a challenge when the university looked at reassembling them.

The pavilion.

The pavilion.

The structures feature some rather interesting and previously unseen features in Singapore in which many Chinese structures are of the Minnan style. An examples of this is the exquisitely carved oversized wooden corbels seen in one of the structures, a late Qing dynasty pavilion. The pavilion, interestingly, also features a mix of styles seen in the wooden balustrades with a Suzhou flavour.

The Suzhou style is also seen in some of the features of the pavilion.

The Suzhou style is also seen in some of the features of the pavilion.

Close to the pavilion, another of the structures – an opera stage, has an interesting feature on its ceiling – a dome of sorts that acts to enhance the stage acoustics.

A feature on the ceiling of the opera stage that enhances the stage's acoustics.

A feature on the ceiling of the opera stage that enhances the stage’s acoustics.

Hokkien opera on an ancient opera stage.

Hokkien opera on an ancient opera stage.

A close-up.

A close-up.

There are also two structures, complementing parts of a Ming dynasty house and a Qing dynasty house, that have been put together in the setting of a lake. Featuring a mix of old and new in the glass panels that keep the air-conditioning in, the parts which have only a small difference in width, find harmony even if they were from different houses and from different times. The parts are a main hall and an inner hall where bedrooms would have been located. An interesting contrast between the two are the finished wooden columns seen in the main hall where guests would be entertained and the coarser looking (and less costly) unfinished columns in the inner more private area.

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In the inner hall.

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The two parts of two houses, complementing each other in the setting of a lake.

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The opera stage by night.

A carved corbel on the stage.

A carved corbel on the stage.

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Fishy business at Changi Creek

29 09 2016

One of few places in Singapore that has still a hint of the old world, even in its modernised form, is Changi Village. While it bears little resemblance now to the sleepy village that once provided a perfect setting of a lazy afternoon stroll, there still are spots in and around it that take you back to its magical days.

The wharf at Changi Creek where fish from fish farms off the northeastern shore are brought ashore.

The wharf at Changi Creek where fish from fish farms off the northeastern shore are brought ashore.

One part of the village that has been spared from being overly manicured and also from the madding nasi-lemak seeking crowds that descend on the village especially during the weekends crowds, is the area around the creek. Here, one finds a world with much soul in it, coloured by the gathering of slow boats used in the transport of people to and from Singapore’s last inhabited island.  This, plus the activities associated with the delivery each morning of live fish from fish farms off Singapore’s northeastern coast from boats to lorries bound for Singapore’s many seafood restaurants, provides the creek with a character that is lacking in much of the rest of the island.

An early morning scene by the wharf.

An early morning scene by the wharf.

It is for these sights that I would often find myself enjoying a stroll by the creek. Observing what goes on at delivery time at the wharf, which is marked by a gathering of styrofoam box topped small lorries wharf side and sees the hoisting by hand of live seafood in nets from the boats, brings as much joy to me as taking in what went on along a once even more colourful Singapore River that I enjoyed as a child.

The colours that the gathering of slow boats to Pulau Ubin bring to the area, as seen from the area where the fish farmers' wharf is.

The colours that the gathering of slow boats to Pulau Ubin bring to the area, as seen from the area where the fish farmers’ wharf is.

The same area seen in 1966 (David Ayres on Flickr).

Sadly, time, it seems, is being called on the wharf and the joy it brings people like me. An article in yesterday’s Straits Times speaks of the prospect of its closure in an effort to curb smuggling. A recent case of cigarette smuggling had apparently been traced to the wharf and in a move typical of the agencies these days, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is looking to have it shut over concerns “national security and safety” and are said to be in discussions with fish farmers on this. The fish farmers, who would be most affected, and would have to offload their time sensitive cargo further away at Lorong Halus or Senoko.

Small lorries gather in the mornings in anticipation of live seafood deliveries brought in from the fish farms.

Small lorries topped with styrofoam boxes gather in the mornings in anticipation of live seafood deliveries brought in from the fish farms.

The wharf - as seen from the ferry terminal.

The wharf – as seen from the ferry terminal.

Live fish are transferred to nets ...

Live fish are transferred to nets …

... which are then 'hoisted' up by hand ...

… which are then ‘hoisted’ up by hand …

... and loaded to lorries bound for seafood restaurants ...

… and loaded to lorries bound for seafood restaurants …

A styrofoam box topped delivery truck.

A styrofoam box topped delivery truck at the wharf.

 

 





A wander through old Changi Hospital

17 10 2015

Changi is an area of Singapore still riddled with many reminders of its past. The site of an artillery battery and an army garrison before the war, Changi was also where tens of thousands of prisoners-of-war were held during the dark days of occupation. The end of the war brought the Royal Air Force (RAF) to Changi with the establishment of the RAF Changi. Changi then served as the Headquarters of the Far East Air Force (FEAF) and its predecessor until the pull-out of British forces in 1971.

The cluster of buildings reminding us of the former RAF Hospital Changi.

The cluster of buildings reminding us of the former RAF Hospital Changi.

A corridor into the past - a corridor along Block 161 as seen from Block 37.

A corridor into the past – a corridor along Block 161 as seen from Block 37.

Several reminders of these episodes in Changi’s history can still be seen today. Buildings from the various barracks from the 1930s and the remnants of the Johore Battery tell us of its garrison days. The air base is still around and although this is hidden from the public eye, a part of the former RAF Changi isn’t, including a cluster of buildings which served as the RAF Hospital Changi. With the permission of the Singapore Land Authority, I managed to wander through the old corridors of the old hospital, which despite what has, in more recent times, been said about it, isn’t what it is made out to be.

The casualty entrance and the operating theatre at Block 37 on top of the hill at the end of Hendon Road.

The casualty entrance and the operating theatre at Block 37 on top of the hill at the end of Hendon Road.

The operating theatre area.

The operating theatre area.

Perched on the northern slope of the former FEAF Hill overlooking the eastern Johor Strait and surrounded by a sea of greenery, the site of the hospital does seem as ideal as any as a one given to the care and recovery of the infirmed. Standing somewhat forlornly since they were vacated in 1997, the three buildings of the former hospital, now painted by many in a somewhat negative light, a sad reminder of the hospital that was very well thought of by many of its would be patients.

The greenery that surrounds the former hospital site.

The greenery that surrounds the former hospital site.

A view towards the Johor Strait from the roof of Block 161.

A view towards the Johor Strait, Pasir Ris and Punggol from the roof of Block 161.

The hospital’s origins lie with the establishment of the RAF’s Changi Station, or RAF Changi. The construction of an airfield by the Japanese in 1943 in the former army cantonment with the help of labour provided by prisoners-of-war (POW) had unlocked the potential of an area initially deemed unsuitable for an air base. The returning British wasted no time and with help from Japanese POWs built on the initial effort and had Singapore’s third principal RAF station set-up around it in 1946.

An aerial view of the Changi Airfield, the construction of which was initiated by the Japanese in 1943. The coastal end of the east-west intersecting strip was where the Beting Kusah area and Kampong Beting Kusah was located. The kampong was cleared in 1948 to allow an RAF expansion of the airstrip.

An aerial view of the Changi Airfield, the construction of which was initiated by the Japanese in 1943.

RAF Hospital Changi during its time had a reputation of being modern and well equipped. The large maternity ward it boasted of was an indication of the presence of many young military families stationed in Singapore, not just with the RAF, but also in the other armed services. By the time the RAF vacated Changi and the hospital in 1971, the ward was responsible for more than a thousand new arrivals.

What would have been a women's ward in Block 161.

What would have been a women’s ward in Block 161.

Another view of the ward.

Another view of the ward.

The hospital’s own arrival came with its setting up in two former barrack buildings. The buildings on Barrack Hill (later FEAF Hill), Blocks 24 and 37, had originally been a part of the pre-war Kitchener Barracks (Block 37 may originally have been a medical facility serving Kitchener Barracks).

RAF Changi 1950. The relative positions of the original Blks 24 and 37 of RAF Hospital Changi and the Chalet Club can be seen (lkinlin18 on Flickr).

RAF Changi 1950. The relative positions of the original Blks 24 and 37 of RAF Hospital Changi and the Chalet Club can be seen (lkinlin18 on Flickrlicense).

Blocks 161 and 24.

Blocks 161 and 24.

The third building we see today, Block 161, was added in 1962. It was constructed to allow the expansion of the hospital after an attempt to consruct a new hospital at Selarang ran into difficulty and was abanadoned. The new building also provided a link over the steep incline that separated the hospital’s original blocks.

A view from Block 24 towards Block 161.

A view from Block 24 towards Block 161.

A passageway along Block 24.

A passageway on the top level of Block 24.

Named after Lord Kitchener, an officer in with the Royal Engineers who perished in service during World War I, Kitchener Barracks was home to the Royal Engineers and was one of four barracks that made up the army garrison. The hospital’s original buildings, the three storey Block 24 in particular, bear resemblance to many other barrack blocks that were built in the same era found across Singapore.

Block 24, which resembles many of the British built barracks blocks from the same era.

Block 24, which resembles many of the British built barracks blocks from the same era.

The are suggestions that the hospital may have been established before the war, in 1935, around the time the barrack buildings were constructed. This however does not seem to have been likely. The evidence points to RAF Hospital Changi’s being established around 1947 based on records and also mentions of the hospital in newpaper articles.

Another ward in Block 161.

Another ward in Block 161.

Sanitary facilities.

Sanitary facilities.

No mention is also made of the hospital in late 1930s articles reporting to the intention to set up and the opening of the British Military Hospital at Alexandra. These point only to a Military Hospital at Tanglin as having been the only functioning hospital within the British military establishment in Singapore. The first reference to an RAF Hospital was in 1946 when that was set up temporarily in part of the mental hospital at Seletar (what became Woodbridge Hospital).

The bathroom inside the women's ward.

The bathroom inside the women’s ward.

A corridor in Block 161 leading to Block 37.

A corridor in Block 161 leading to Block 37.

One of the notable contributions of the hospital was the role it played in responding to medical emergencies hundred of miles offshore. The participation of the hospital extended to the deployment of “flying” surgeons and other medical personnel, one of whom was S/Ldr Agnes Bartels – who had the distinction of being the RAF’s only woman surgeon stationed in the Far East.

An air-conditioning cooling unit outside Block 161.

An air-conditioning cooling unit outside Block 161.

On the ground level of Block 24.

On the ground level of Block 24.

The hospital would also called into service during the Korean War. A “Flying Ambulance” service, which was organised by the RAF to repatriate wounded UN Command troops from Japan via the UK to their home countries, used Singapore as a stopover. A ward specially set up at RAF Hospital Changi, allowed the wounded to be cared for whilst in transit. During the period, the hospital saw troops from several countries, which included the likes of Turkey and France.

Rooms in Block 24.

What seems to be a kitchen in Block 24.

The entrance area at Block 24.

The entrance area at Block 24.

The end for RAF Hospital Changi came in 1971 when the British pulled their forces out, at which point it was one of the three military run hospitals on the island. While the other two, the British Military Hospital (now Alexandra Hospital) and the Naval Base Hospital, were handed over to Singapore, Changi was retained for use as a military hospital to serve the smaller force being deployed under the ANZUK arrangement. On 1 October 1971, the then 150 bed hospital became the ANZUK Military Hospital.

A corridor on the second level of Block 24.

A corridor on the second level of Block 24.

A view towards Block 24.

A view from Block 161 towards Block 24.

The withdrawal of Australia from the ANZUK arrangement (which saw a pullout in 1975), placed the hospital once again under the command of the UK military. It was then renamed the UK Military Hospital for a short while before it was handed over to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) on 1 December 1975 when it became the SAF Hospital.

A WC in Block 24.

A WC in Block 24.

The roof structure of Block 161.

The roof structure of Block 161.

Another corridor in Block 161.

Another corridor in Block 161.

Intended to serve SAF personnel and their families, the hospital was also to open its doors to the public. This was in early 1976, prior to it being transferred to the Ministry of Health who merged with the nearby 36 bed Changi Chalet Hospital and it became Changi Hospital on 1 July 1976.

Changi Chalet Hospital at Turnhouse Road seen in the mid 1970s (since demolished). The field in the foreground is the former RAF Changi's Padang Sports Field and is where the former SIA Group Sports Club was built in the 1980s (photograph: Edmund Arozoo on On a Little Street in Singapore).

Changi Chalet Hospital at Turnhouse Road seen in the mid 1970s (since demolished). The field in the foreground is the former RAF Changi’s Padang Sports Field and is where the former SIA Group Sports Club was built in the 1980s (photograph: Edmund Arozoo on On a Little Street in Singapore).

The decision to set up the 36 bed Changi Chalet Hospital, which was opened in the converted former Chalet Club (between Turnhouse Road and Netheravon Road) in August 1974, only for it to be absorbed into Changi Hospital less than two years later seems rather strange. Opened with the intention to serve “residents in the area”, rumour has it that the well equipped hospital, was set up to serve a certain group of holiday makers in what had been a well protected area.

A view from the old Sergeants Mess towards the area where Changi Chalet Club was.

A view from the old Sergeants’ Mess towards the area where Changi Chalet Club was.

The death knell for Changi Hospital was sounded when it was announced in 1988 that a new site was being sought for a new Changi Hospital, which was “poorly located and not designed orginally to operate as a high activity acute hospital”. That was eventually found in Simei and the new Changi Hospital, which merged the operations of the old Changi Hospital, which closed in January 1997, with that of the former Toa Payoh Hospital, was opened in February 1997.

More views of Block 24.

More views of Block 24.

The connection between Block 24 and Block 161.

The connection between Block 24 and Block 161.

A corridor at Block 37.

A corridor at Block 37.

Block 37 as seen from Block 161.

Block 37 as seen from Block 161.

Block 37.

Block 37.

The eventual fate of the buildings is not known. A tender exercise conducted in 2006 saw the award of site for interime use on a lease period of three years (extendable to an additional three plus three years) to Premium Pacific Pte Ltd. The intention to convert it into a Spa & Resort Development by 2008 however did not materialise and the property was returned in early 2010. Further attempts to find interim uses for the site have proved unsuccessful and the buildings have, since the hospital’s move, been sadly been left abandoned.

An artist’s impression of the proposed spa resort (it would be Block 37 depicted).

Block 37.

Block 37.

Block 37.

Block 37.

A room in Block 37.

A room in Block 37.

Block 37 towards Block 161.

Block 37 towards Block 161.

Block 37.

Block 37.

The staircase down from the second level of Block 37.

The staircase down from the second level of Block 37.








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